SARASOTA, Fla. — Sarasota County Schools is standing by its decision to implement a temporary mask mandate after receiving a letter from the state's commissioner of education threatening to withhold the salaries of school board members if it remains.
In a response from the school board's attorney, members claim the emergency face mask policy "is both lawful and compliant" with the Parents' Bill of Rights.
The school district's current policy is in place for 90-days and requires a medical exemption from a list of approved licensed healthcare officials before a student is able to opt out.
The mask mandate is set to expire around the end of November. The school board plans to suspend the policy if the county's COVID-19 positivity rate falls below 8 percent for three consecutive days.
"My clients contend that the immediate and recent threat to student health, safety, and welfare posed by COVID-19 in Florida and Sarasota County is compelling," the letter reads.
School Board Chair Shirley Brown and Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen are instead pushing for the Florida Department of Education to reconsider its position on the district's policy being "inconsistent and non-compliant."
An imposition of sanctions and corresponding investigations to stop until legal challenges to the governor's mask mandate ban are fully settled in court was also called for.
Hillsborough County, also included in the letter from Corcoran, says it has no plans to change its current mask mandate. The Florida Department of Education has already withheld funds equal to school board members' salaries in Alachua and Broward counties.
Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this summer signed the "Parents' Bill of Rights," aimed at protecting caretakers' choices over a child's health and upbringing. In July, he signed an executive order that banned districts from enacting mask mandates.
The fight between school districts and the DOE continues to play out amid Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruling in favor of several Tampa Bay-area attorneys and parents who filed a lawsuit challenging DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools. Cooper contended the governor crossed his constitutional authority by issuing the order.
DeSantis' office said the governor would appeal the ruling.